I don’t know anyone who isn’t at least a little bit sad on hearing about the death of David Bowie, and I’d guess the people who feel it most will be those (of whatever age) who discovered him in their teens. At a period in life when you seem to be constantly asking yourself ‘am I normal’? and feeling pretty sure the answer is ‘no, you’re a freak’ the appearance of such an astonishing, beautiful , and above all, joyous, freak is such a gift.
The songs were great but he was about more than the music. He was a work of art. The costumes and the make-up were fabulous, but they were used with intelligence and humour to play around with ideas of gender and sexuality. These are ideas that still get a big reaction. People don’t like being confused, and he was confusingly sexy (whatever your sex or sexuality – if his evil Goblin King in the film Labyrinth doesn’t give you a warm tingle – seek help).
Of course, we’d had androgyny before, but I think that what he did was truly different. Firstly, his characters weren’t just weird and beautiful, they were fun. I suspect we would never have had Vince Noir: Rock and Roll Star or perhaps even Eddie Izzard without him. But David Bowie managed to be something more remarkable than that. He was extraordinarily ordinary. I can’t think of another person who seemed more totally comfortable in their own skin. He looked as though he’d be perfectly happy popping down the shops for a carton of semi-skimmed dressed as the Ashes to Ashes Pierrot or wearing a dapper grey suit.
It’s a strange thing to say of someone famous for inventing a series of outlandish personas but he never seemed to be trying to be anything but himself. So maybe that’s why he was so important. Bowie’s been rightly celebrated as a champion for outsiders but I think that, whatever it was he was doing, we all need it. In a harsh and judgemental world, those teenage questions never go out of date; but David Bowie showed us another way of answering them: ‘Am I normal’? Yes. ‘Am I a freak’? Well, yes, but that’s okay. Being the odd one out might mean you’re special.
Being yourself might take nerve, but the way Bowie did it shows it doesn’t mean having to be fearless or defiant – you can relax and enjoy it. And what’s the pay-off? If you’re David Bowie it’s being a Starman with a ‘normal’ stable marriage. It’s being a rock legend who eschewed drugs to look after his son. Accepting yourself will mean something different for you. But if, like Bowie, you can do it with humour and grace, it can be a powerful thing.